Sometimes people come alongside and lift you when the stones feel too heavy to carry alone. These are many in our life–family, friends, our church community. But sometimes, a professional steps in and finds you when you feel you might be lost forever. There is no shame in seeking help from someone trained in treating the illnesses we tarry over. There is no shame in seeking professional help for depression.
I’m so excited to welcome Dr. Michelle Bengtson to the blog today. Dr. Bengtson earned her doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University over 20 years ago, and went on to specialize in clinical neuropsychology, which is the study of how the brain influences behavior. She has been in private practice for over 15 years, and specializes in the evaluation and diagnosis of medical and mental health diagnoses from ADHD and learning disabilities to depression and anxiety, post-concussion syndrome, and dementia.
In addition to her neuropsychology practice, Dr. Bengtson is a writer and speaker. She blogs weekly about inspiration, hope and mental health issues on her website DrMichelleB.com and also has a weekly “Ask Dr. B” column where she answers readers’ questions. She also guest posts frequently on others’ sites, and is a popular radio show guest.
Dr. Michelle has co-authored 3 books. Her first solo project, which explores depression from a spiritual perspective, will be released by Revell Publishing in 2016,
We’ve been talking about loving someone with Depression and Dr. Bengtson has extensive experience in this area. She’s agreed to share some of her knowledge and experience with us to shed further light on this difficult place of shadows.
Laura: First, I think it’s important to define what Depression is for our readers today. We have been talking about Unipolar Depression, rather than Bipolar (the type sometimes accompanied by episodes of Mania). Would you give us a good picture of what this illness looks like to the unpracticed eye and advise what symptoms to look for?
Dr. Michelle: Depression usually presents with multiple symptoms at the same time. People typically think that a depressed mood is the primary indicator for depression, but many who are depressed don’t necessarily describe their MOOD as depressed. They may experience decreased happiness or increased irritability, agitation, or frustration. There is often decreased motivation, and often decreased interest in activities that were previously enjoyable. There is also a tendency to experiences changes in sleep habits that for some is experienced by increased sleep, whereas others experience difficulty sleeping. With a change in sleep, decreased energy is also reported. Many also experience changes in appetite: either increased appetite which is sometimes accompanied by weight gain, or decreased appetite and weight loss. Some who experience depression also experience feelings of wanting to harm themselves or others, and some experience feelings associated with wanting to die.
L: I know any information imparted in this kind of impersonal way should be done cautiously and, of course, with the disclaimer that every case is different. Our words here cannot replace medical/psychological advice obtained in a more personal face-to-face interview, but what steps would you advise a person to take if they suspect their loved one suffers from Depression? What if they are concerned that person may be a harm to him or herself?
Dr. M: You make a very important point, that everyone’s experience is different. No two people experience depression in exactly the same way or the same length of time or severity. It’s also important to note that often, the person who is depressed, doesn’t recognize it as quickly as friends or loved ones do. The same goes for treatment for depression – often friends and family members will notice improvement before the depressed individual does.
People often fear that if they mention their concerns, or ask their loved one if they are feeling depressed or suicidal, that it’ll bring it on. That isn’t usually the case. Asking shows that you care.
Because depression often brings with it decreased energy and motivation, simple things (like taking a daily vitamin or brushing your teeth) may just seem like they take too much energy to be bothered. When this is the case, be prepared to celebrate the little successes with them. You may need to call their doctor and make an appointment FOR them, and you may need to go WITH them both as a source of support, but also as an objective and concerned party.
If you suspect that a loved one may be a harm to him or herself, you may need to stay with them until they are out of harms way. Consider calling their physician. And if necessary, you may need to call a suicide hotline (1-800-273-TALK).
L: In your experience, do people respond well to treatments for Depression?
Dr. M: That’s an interesting question. Some respond really well, while some hardly at all. Early on in my career I used to think it so odd that in the Bible Jesus asked the lame man if he wanted to get well. I thought, “well surely he wants to get well or he wouldn’t be at the pool hoping to be healed.” I have since come to realize that most want to be rid of their depression, but precious few are willing to do what it takes to get better. It’s often easier for people to stay in their known discomfort than to risk the discomfort of the unknown.
L: Can you comment on the impact of faith in this process—from your experience or any research you may be familiar with.
Dr. M: This could be the topic of two or three more interviews/posts! I’m not sure you want to get me started on this or I could talk all day! Our faith has a tremendous impact on our health and healing!!
Many grew up in environments where they were taught they had to “do” or they had to “be perfect” in order to be loved or accepted or forgiven. And many lived under the cloak and embarrassment of shame and guilt for things they have done or not done. All of these factors can impact our emotional and spiritual health.
I’ve spoken to many patients and other individuals who have come to believe that their depression (or anxiety, or bipolar disorder or you name it) is either God’s punishment or is the “thorn in their side.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. Scripture tells us repeatedly that God’s desire is for us to be in health, and that includes our mental health!
Scripture also tells us that God delights in giving us the desires of our hearts, and that includes the desire to be healthy physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But repeatedly we see in His Word that He often requires us to do something first before He acts. He often waits for our obedience.
L: Do you have any advice specifically for the loved ones of a person who is depressed?
Dr. M: Show that you care.
Tell them that you care.
Remember that just like allergies and heart disease, depression is a medical condition.
Keep in mind that no-one LIKES being depressed more than anyone likes having cancer. But getting through depression is not as simple as telling someone to “get over it,” or “think positively.”
You may find it helpful to read a couple other blog posts I wrote on the topic, especially with respect to what TO say to a depressed loved one, and what NOT to say to a depressed loved one:
L: I understand that you are working on a book related to this issue. Do you mind sharing a little bit about that?
Dr. M: That’s always my joy to share about this current work. I believe that God often turns our biggest messes into our greatest messages. I am not only a neuropsychologist who evaluates and diagnoses individuals with depression, but I am also a former depression sufferer! Depression was common in my household growing up and I grew up believing that was just “normal.”
I’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of patients in my practice who have suffered from at least a degree of depression. I’ve also seen many relapse and fall prey to its dark hold. When I went through a prolonged period of depression, I tried all the same suggestions and techniques that I had offered to my patients, but still struggled.
What I’ve come to realize in my more than 20 years in the field is that medication can help, and therapy can help, but unless we deal with the spiritual roots of disease, we are often only applying a bandaid rather than curing the underlying problem.
My book is in the titling and book cover process right now, but will be out a year from now, and will address what depression is, where it comes from, what the enemy does to keep us there, what by God’s grace he won’t let depression do to us, and how to treat it more effectively. It’s written from two voices: that of a doctor who has treated many with depression, as well as that of a woman who has suffered through it herself and won!
L: Finally, are there any resources you would recommend for families and loved ones dealing with a person who has Depression?
Dr. M: I frequently blog about depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. You’ll also find a list of resources for a variety of mental health issues there. On my author page on Facebook you can also find daily encouragement.
If your readers are interested in seeking psychotherapy to help with their depression, they may want to seek a recommendation for a therapist from their church, or from their insurance company, their primary physician, or from the American Psychological Association .
They may be interested in consulting Dr. Henry Wright’s book: A More Excellent Way to Be In Health
They may be interested in Dr. Caroline Leaf’s book: Who Switched Off My Brain? Revised: Controlling Toxic Thoughts and Emotions
L: Thank you, Dr. Bengtson, for sharing the gift of your knowledge and experience. I’m grateful for professionals like you who offer hope to the hurting.
Dr. M: Thank you! It’s my goal to provide help and hope one patient, one blog post, one book, or one speaking engagement at a time! It’s time we end the stigma formed against mental health and get on with living a joyful life!
**This Friday series contains reflections on loving someone who has Depression. If you are in this place, or know someone who is, I hope you’ll join me in this journey. These words cannot replace medical or psychological treatment, but I hope they will be a source of encouragement.
Part I: When You Love Someone Who has Depression
Part II: West Virginia Morning: When You Love Someone with Depression, II
Part III: Good Friday